Here we go again! For the last month, I have walked around and stumbled through a pile of dry bags, wet suits (a new one for me with a zipper), tent, sleeping bags, and three sets of clothes for each of us. I usually can’t stand chaos and disorder in my home. Everything needs to be in its place, not in the middle of my study, especially not for days, weeks, or months at a time. The last time I encountered this scenario we were getting ready for our trip from the headwaters of the Wabash to the Gulf of Mexico. The chaos existed for close to six months accompanied by a year of planning.
So why the need to watch where I put my feet as I walk through my study? We are going to experience our river-view of the beautiful Mississippi again! I conceived the idea of this river adventure while on the road traveling to see my daughter, Tiffany, in Muncie, Indiana, on January 13, 2017.
As I drove, my eyelids grew heavy. What can I do to stay awake? I’m not sure why my first thought was to come up with a life list. You know, different adventures I want to experience and different life-styles I want to live during the rest of my life. Some people refer to this list as a bucket list. Anyway, one line item was to go on what I refer to as a Ruskey Trip.
I first encountered Ruskey Trips when we stayed at Quapaw Canoe Company in Helena, Mississippi while on our trip from the headwaters of Wabash River to the Gulf of Mexico. John Ruskey, known as Rivergator, is the owner of the Quapaw Canoe Company and the expert of the Middle and Lower Mississippi River. His mission is to share secrets for safe paddling on the single longest section of free-flowing river in the continental US (outside of Alaska) while dispelling some of the myths and fears about such a powerful river, replacing them with the truth about the beauty and wildness of this natural landscape.
Thinking about my list kept me awake—I arrived in one piece at Tiff’s. But before I went in, I pulled up my e-mails on my iPhone. You won’t believe this—I opened an e-mail from John Ruskey announcing The Rivergator Celebratory Expedition, an 1154-mile six-week (March 20 to May 10, 2017) adventure from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers a few miles north of St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico! The trip’s purpose is to celebrate the 2017 completion of Rivergator: Paddler’s Guide to the Middle/Lower Mississippi River and the wild powerful beauty of the biggest and baddest river in North America. No way! I couldn’t believe what I read.
Reality replaced my initial excitement; John couldn’t take six-weeks off work. I read on… “You can join in for a day, a week, or the entire 6 week adventure — whatever fits your Spring 2017 schedule.” So there was a chance. I couldn’t wait to share my news with John.
John called while I drove home later that day. The first words out of my mouth were, “I want to take a Ruskey trip in March.” The conversation continued as I filled in the details from the e-mail.
John shared my enthusiasm. “This is doable. Let’s take a closer look to see which section we can do.”
Later, sitting at our table, we looked at the itinerary and decided on the St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois and Cairo to Caruthersville, Missouri sections. These combined portions of the river will total around 300 miles and will take twelve days, March 20-March 31. We chose these sections so we could travel on part of the Mississippi we didn’t encounter a couple of years ago—the confluence of the Missouri River north of St. Louis, Missouri, to the confluence of the Ohio River in Cairo, Illinois, known as the Middle Mississippi. We will then continue to Caruthersville, Missouri, where some friends we met there the last time will take us back to our car in St. Louis.
Before I go any further, let me explain more about the trip and introduce you to the boat. While three people have committed to the entire trip, with two more potentials, around four dozen paddlers will take advantage of various portions. There will be twelve to fifteen of us on our stretch, three of which are women. While some of the paddlers are first time adventurers, most are experienced.
Why a March 20 start date? To coincide with the Spring Equinox. Also, March 22 is World Water Day, which we will celebrate in downtown St. Louis on our way out of town in honor of Mother Earth. We will also observe World Earth Hour (lights out) on March 25 by turning off our headlamps and extinguishing the campfire. I can’t think of a better place to focus on nature and the natural progression of the seasons.
Instead of our own two kayaks, we will be traveling in a large cypress-strip voyageur canoe, the Grasshopper. John Ruskey hand-built the Grasshopper in 2014 from cypress harvested out of the Loosahatchie River Basin, redwood recycled from his porch, and red oak collected from a tree that fell behind the old Clarksdale Catholic Church. She is 29’, 54” wide at beam, and 31” tall at ends; similar in size and shape to the big canoes used by LaSalle, and Joliette & Marqette. Using the Monocoque Stripper Method, Ruskey, several of the Mighty Quapaws, and a couple of master carpenter friends spent three months sandwiching the wood strips in fiberglass until the former trees and porch were transformed into a water craft.
Over the past three years, she has taken three major trips: Baton Rouge down Atchafalaya to the Gulf, St. Louis to Memphis, and Circumnavigation of Big Island. Close to a thousand passengers have paddled her thousands of miles. Prior to transporting her to St. Louis on March 20, Ruskey performed some necessary repairs. She received some fiberglass patches, Kevlar skid plates, and dozens of layers of marine spar varnish. A few rotten joints had to be cleaned out and re-glued, then protected with fiberglass.
Now you know the who, why, what, when, and where of why I am stepping over gear in our study. We are just a few days away from leaving our society home and arriving at our wilderness home. I am busy preparing myself physically and mentally for this change. That’s another post… Stay tuned…